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Pallone Says Health Care Overhaul Bill Could Come this Year

By Daniela Feldman, CQ Staff

February 11, 2009 -- House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., said Wednesday he wants to draft a comprehensive health care plan within the first year of President Obama’s administration.

During an address at The Atlantic’s “State of the Union for Health Care,” Pallone said he wants an overhaul to make care more robust, beef up employer coverage and make improvements to the health care market.

“What’s most important is that we recognize in Congress, the leaders in health care and the president, that we need to move forward as quickly as possible and despite crisis, because that is going to help the economy,” Pallone said, adding that the House will want to take cues from the Obama administration as it moves forward on a bill.

Earlier this month, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) Chairman Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts sent a letter to Obama reiterating their commitment to passing health care overhaul legislation this year. Both the Finance and HELP panels have been working on health care legislation.

Last November, Baucus unveiled a wide-ranging plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system which, among its provisions, would create a “health insurance exchange” where insurers could sell health coverage to the uninsured.

And Pallone’s boss, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., said on Jan. 29 that overhaul legislation can be introduced and signed into law in 2009, and rejected the notion that current economic woes mean an overhaul must be postponed.

At the January conference sponsored by the left-leaning advocacy group Families USA, Waxman said, “This isn’t something to put off, this is something to do right now to help fix our economy” by easing the burdens of rising health costs on business and increasing the productivity of workers.

Pallone said he wants to create and expand health care programs to provide wider and more comprehensive coverage, specifically for Medicare and Medicaid. He also said he wants to see public health care options that create competition, bring down costs and provide choices at the national level for universal coverage.

“Health care is in crisis,” he said. “The number of uninsured is going up, which is linked to costs.” Pallone said he plans to hold a series of subcommittee hearings on the problems with the health care system in the coming weeks.

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